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Critic: James Yeara

On the Razzle

photo:Man of LaMancha

1. Man Of La Mancha

New York State Theatre Institute

Though NYSTI’s justly touted as the foremost children’s theater in the region, their Man of La Mancha was no kiddie show, but first-rate adult theater that stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the region’s other innovative series. Challenging as it entertained, focused on the story, the singing, and the musical’s marvelous theme, this was a dream production.

2. Syncopation

Capital Repertory Theatre

A play and a production about passion: passion for life, passion for art, passion for a lover. From its setting to its chocolate use of dance—rich, smooth, and tastefully decadent—Syncopation was another winning production on a theme that director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill has explored with such a deft touch: what it means to love, and the consequences of loving.

3 Play By Play: Answers?!

StageWorks/Hudson

The annual collection of one-acts had something for everyone: for theater lovers, a soul kiss; for casual theater goers, some things familiar and other things strange; and for those who just liked to go out and socialize, Play by Play: Answers?! gave something to laugh and talk about.

4. The Complete History Of America (Abridged)

Capital Repertory Theatre

Full of biting humor, classic comedy routines, laughs shaken, not stirred, with a twist of Monty Python and a dash of Daily Show. This show was real comedy, not Neil Simon dinner theater-type ha-ha’s; a “pass the seltzer bottle, and full-speed ahead” look at American History without the multiple-choice test or annoying essay questions. This was laughter with a heart of glee.

5. King John

Shakespeare&Company

Challenging actors, directors, and audiences to make their own relevant connections between Middle Ages history and contemporary political quagmires, King John was more a series of scenes that charged the stage like lightning connecting earth to sky. Offering no easy through line, no simple connections, no pat answers nor sound bite summations, it’s a rare theater company that so trusts its audience to grasp the nuances, and the trust is rewarded deeply.

6. Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train

StageWorks/Hudson

Director Danielle Skraastad kept her five-person cast focused, exact, believable, interesting, funny, and stunning, all with an audience-friendly but playwright-pleasing tight pace; this was a production that hummed, and the acting stayed in the realm of the real and the honest. With a play juggling as many issues, ideas, characters, and stories as this one did, Skraastad and cast—along with scenic designer John Pollard’s chain-link- and razor-wire-raked set and Jeffrey Lependorf’s edgy, subtle sound design—were to be lauded for balancing the malice and the mirth so that neither was lost nor overwhelmed the other.

7. The Girl In The Frame

Adirondack Theatre Festival

At its core, The Girl in the Frame was a quirky, insightful, occasionally nibbing look at modern relationships through the fantasies of four couples. The songs had a breezy connection to the story, much like the songs in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, but if you weren’t careful, beyond the laughing, the singing, and grin- producing physical acting of the four-person cast, there was a lesson about how “the man in your life has re-defined the man of your dreams” that brought about a well-deserved and honest happy ending. The audience smiled, laughed, applauded, and left the theater with a little hope.

8. Elegies: A Song Cycle

Barrington Stage Company

The wind howled, the rain pelted, the thunder cracked, the lightning struck, and the electricity went off—opening night was the stuff legends are made on. There was a power in this performance of William Finn’s Elegies: A Song Cycle that was chilling to behold. These songs were an aria of notes that soared as if, by force of voice, meaning could be instilled instead of emotions distilled. This was a performance that had the audience in sniffles, tears surreptitiously wiped away, with the rain falling, the wind crying, the thunder sounding, the lightning streaking.

9. Ice Glen

Shakespeare&Company

The power of poetry, of art, and of country property was plumbed in Joan Ackerman’s new play as the six characters waltzed through arch scenes of hypersensitivity and profundity. So much wide-eyed innocence, tip-of-the-tongue longing, and rapacious desires were bottled up then uncorked by the upper-class Merchant Ivory archetypes, yet for all their talk of the power of poetry and art among the genteel trio, it was the trio of working-class characters that showed the poetry, lived the poetry, and were the poetry in Ackerman’s funny, moving, witty, and pleasurably engaging play. While the rich have always played at Berkshire country life, the trio of servants formed the soul of Ice Glen.

10. Follies

Barrington Stage Company

Displaying a wealth of talent in an expensive array of gorgeous costumes, BSC’s Follies was a musical for those who like their theater exclusive, extravagant, and full of stars. BSC’s Follies was Williamstown South, cashing in on the cachet of co-producing this year’s Tony Award-winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to entice the likes of Broadway legends Donna McKechnie (original Cassie in A Chorus Line), Marni Nixon (singing star behind the lead ingenue screen-performances in West Side Story, The King and I, and My Fair Lady), and Kim Crosby (original Cinderella in Into the Woods), along with a stellar cast to create director Julie Boyd’s opulent, sterling version of Follies.

 

Best Performances

1. Jonathan Croy (The Taming Of The Shrew, Shakespeare&Company)

 

2. Eileen Schuyler (Play By Play: Answers?!, StageWorks/Hudson)

 

3. Norbert Weisser (Times Like These, Capital Repertory Theatre)

 

4. Barbara Sims (King John, Shakespeare&Company)

 

5 & 6. Erik Gratton and Sandra Blaney (The Illusion, StageWorks/Hudson)

 

7. Susannah Millonzi (King John, Shakespeare&Company)

 

8. Celia Madeoy (The Taming Of The Shrew, Shakespeare&Company)

 

9. Nicola Sheara and Nicolevnya Shearonovsky (You Can’t Take It With You, Capital Repertory Theatre

 

10. Tug Coker (You Can’t Take It With You, Capital Repertory Theatre)

Critic: Ralph Hammann

1. Bus Stop

Williamstown Theatre Festival

A luminous performance by Elizabeth Banks and a sparkling ensemble powered this play by William Inge, which was given new life in the WTF’s beautifully mounted production.

2. The Father

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Eric Hill’s magnificently crumbling tower of a man and Anders Cato’s canny direction turned Strindberg’s classic into a contemporary thriller.

3. Follies

Barrington Stage Company

A complete work of love by director Julianne Boyd and her talented cast and production team, this was among the finest musicals I’ve ever seen. It was also a brilliant re-jiggering of Stephen Sondheim’s problematic-but-magnificent work.

4. On the Razzle

Williamstown Theatre Festival

Under the astute direction of David Jones, Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Johann Nestroy’s little-known (in the United States) farce provided the most hilarity of the year. A complete dazzler.

5. Rat in the Skull

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Jonathan Epstein was brutally stunning and Malcolm Ingram was perfect in this always-riveting production (directed by Dennis Garnum) of Ron Hutchinson’s tense Irish drama. The BTF’s Unicorn Theatre was turned into a crucible of burning ideas.

6. Souvenir

Berkshire Theatre Festival

In its pre-Broadway run, this proved to be a fascinating blend of pathos and humor as the deft Judy Kaye brought Florence Foster Jenkins’ severely challenged coloratura soprano to vivid and ear-shattering life. Under Vivian Matalon’s direction of Stephen Temperley’s clever script, Kaye was beautifully supported by co-star Donald Corren as Jenkins’ reluctant accompanist.

 

worst of 2005

1. Tongue of a Bird

Main Street Stage (North Adams)

Under Bruce T. MacDonald’s blithering, indulgent and moronically reverential direction, Ellen McLaughlin’s overwritten attempt to be poetic turned out to be the turd of the bird. Since my review in another paper, MacDonald “dis-invited” me from reviewing at his theater.

2. Top Girls

Williamstown Theatre Festival

A first-rate cast couldn’t translate Caryl Churchill’s over-rated text into anything intelligible. Idiotic design and poor lighting made matters worse.

3. Side by Side by Sondheim

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Well-intentioned but ineptly staged and designed, the master’s revue was sung by a trio of whom only one had sufficient stage presence.


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